By Rich Fisher, Correspondent
It has been an interesting journey for Charles Cooke III over the past nine years, and it has taken him to the doorstep of a possible NBA career.
On Aug. 2, the 2012 Trenton Catholic Academy graduate signed a two-way contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. Beginning this season, each NBA team can carry 15 players on its standard roster and up to two more with two-way contracts.
As a two-way player, Cooke will spend the majority of the 2017-18 season in the G League, the NBA’s official minor league organization. He can be called up to New Orleans for a maximum of 45 days during the season. Players such as Seth Curry and Jeremy Lin spent time in the G League.
The 6-foot-5, 195-pound former University of Dayton guard worked out for several NBA teams this summer and landed with the Minnesota Timberwolves Summer League team after going undrafted. He averaged 10 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals over five games and eventually signed with New Orleans as a free agent.
Cooke and former Dayton coach Archie Miller, now the head man at Indiana, could not be reached for comment for this story, but TCA coach Fred Falchi feels Charles’ versatility helped him latch on with New Orleans.
“For me, being a high school coach, you don’t really know what they look at,” Falchi said. “But he has the size and he has the length. Some kids are just too short; so of course you thought maybe he had an outside chance.
“You would never have anticipated that when he came in with us. When he was a freshman he was 6-3, 120 pounds. You wouldn’t anticipate the way he grew and worked. He has a lot of length and a 7-1 wing span. He can do a little bit of everything; that’s hard to find in the NBA. A lot of guys are scorers and that’s it but he can defend a lot of different positions and he can score, so that’s a plus.”
Cooke’s early days at TCA were memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Within the first three months of his freshman year, his dad, Charles Jr., broke up a fight between some teenage girls on the street. One of the brawlers took out a gun and shot him. For some time, Cooke Jr., was being given a 50-50 chance to survive before eventually pulling through.
“That was a rough year for all of us,” Falchi said. “It wasn’t even my father but it was weighing on me, too. It had to be a tough thing for him to go through. But he was never an issue in school, never a problem. He never missed anything because of it, which is a credit to him and his family.
“It was like a two-year thing for the recovery, there were some operations. But his dad wound up coming out of it fine. It was all pretty crazy. He had to go through a lot to get where he was at. His dad has been healthy for a while and is very supportive.”
Cooke was a member of TCA’s state championship team as a sophomore and led the team in scoring his senior year, when he was ranked the 11th best college prospect in New Jersey. Charles opted for James Madison University, where he encountered some more adversity. Despite averaging 14.3 points per game and earning third-team All-Colonial Athletic Association honors as a sophomore, Cooke transferred to Dayton.
After sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, Smith was named first-team All-Atlantic 10 as a junior and second-team as a senior. He was on the league’s All-Defensive team both seasons, and led the Flyers in
scoring both years. He averaged 15.6 points as a junior, and was second in rebounding (5.8) and third in steals (40) and blocked shots (38). He averaged 15.8 points this past year and led the team with 5.1 rebounds per game.
On his Feb. 28 “Coach’s Show” with Larry Hansgen on Ohio’s WHIO-AM 1290 radio station, Miller discussed just how valuable Cooke was.
“To his credit, he has had about an impactful as a two-year period here as anybody we’ve brought in,” said Miller, who was known for getting talented transfers to Dayton. “Not only has he fit in seamlessly, but his personality on and off the floor has carried him to be one of the better players in the conference.
“He’s had a much better disposition in terms of being a playmaker. ... He’s done a great job for us. We would not be able to do any of the things we’ve done the last two years without him.”
After his junior season, Cooke tested the NBA waters and worked out for several teams before deciding to return for his senior year.
Speaking with Justin Kinner on 1410 ESPN Radio’s Dayton Sports Scene, Cooke said, “I learned a ton. More so just the important feedback you get about what you really need to work on and just having a chance to talk to the guys in the facilities at that time. (You) ask a few questions to get pointers here and there. For me, the feedback was huge, for me the relationships you form with the people you meet was great as well. A year ago it was more so just getting a feel of the NBA games and workouts; the pace of the game. Just how it works.”
Cooke went on to say he considered it a successful senior year at Dayton in terms of what he learned, but unsuccessful because the Flyers did not win the conference tournament. One thing he did not bring up was that he missed several games with a back issue.
“Again, this is just my opinion, but he kind of hurt his back and I don’t think he had the year everyone kind of expected,” Falchi said. “We thought he had a chance of getting drafted but once he hurt his back, that hurt his chances.
“He’s really had to overcome a lot with his dad and with some injuries. But he’s a great kid. Once he gets in there, he’s gotta play OK. If he just does what he’s supposed to do, hopefully he’ll get a 10, 15-year career out of it. All you need is that one year to get a nice contract.”